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Challenger Parkby Stephen Harrigan
Synopses & Reviews
She thought she had a chance to make the light at the intersection of NASA Road One and Space Center Boulevard, but the driver in front of her maddeningly decelerated as he answered his cell phone, and now he had come to a full stop while the turn arrow was still yellow. Well aware of her own vulnerability to panicky frustration, Lucy Kincheloe made a point to remind herself there was no real hurry. The light was two minutes long at most, the familiar voice on the phone had been calm, and Lucy herself had already made this trip four times this year. She had trained for enough emergencies to know that beneath almost every sort of raging anxiety there was a calm pocket, a perfect little vacuum in which both thoughts and actions were crisp and clear. She could find that place if she needed to, but for now she just lightened her grip on the steering wheel, then stared in contemplation at the recessed Chrysler logo at its center, as if it were some sort of ancient mandala-like emblem.
The man in front of her swung his head back and forth as he talked on his cell phone. He wore a baseball cap and sunglasses, and on the back of his Range Rover there was a bumper sticker that read, When a Man Is Tired of Lubbock He Is Tired of Life. Very funny. Lucy looked away and gazed out across the lake. The morning haze had burned off, and in the noon light the brackish water appeared deceptively lovely, its surface undisturbed except for a single Jet Ski carving a white wake whose exhausted wavelets lapped at the riprap at the side of the road. On the distant Kemah bridge, where the lake merged into Gal- veston Bay, a procession of cars glinted in the sun, and a smallish flock ofpink spoonbills meandered in from the opposite shore, heading past the Hilton toward the marshy channels and bayous beyond Bay Area Boulevard.
It all made for a lilting tableau, even in her agitated state, even if she knew that beneath its present blue sheen this particular body of water was a mudhole. It had always galled her that these boosterish Texans could get away with calling it Clear Lake. Reared in the honest precincts of New England, she could not get used to Texas place-names that advertised mountains that were barely more than hummocks or supposedly mighty lakes that would not have qualified as a pond back home. Even the storied Rio Grande, which she and Brian had seen on a disagreeable weekend trip several years ago to Matamoros, was hardly more than a drainage ditch.
The light had still not changed. The driver ahead of her was still yammering on his phone. When the sense of alarm she had been holding so coolly at bay suddenly broke through, she made a lightning assessment of the oncoming traffic and with a breathtaking lack of deliberation jerked her steering wheel to the left and whipped past the Range Rover as she made a left turn against the light. She offered a cringing wave of apology to a flabbergasted driver from the opposite corner whose own impending turn she had not taken into consideration. In her rearview mirror she could see the guy in the Range Rover glaring at her through his polarized sunglasses and switching his cell phone to the opposite hand so he could give her the finger, but she didn't dwell on his opinion of her for more than a moment.
As she drove down Space Center Boulevard, the tires of her minivan teased the grooves of the newlyresurfaced street, producing a wavering banshee tone that matched the cloudy dread that had suddenly entered her mind. The road curved along the back side of the Johnson Space Center, an expanse of empty ground bordered by leafless winter trees, where deer patrolled the fence line and joggers wended in and out of sight, following the exercise trail through a thin screen of forest. Go Atlantis read a banner attached to the chain-link fence, cheering on the space shuttle tha
As Lucy Kincheloe, an astronaut married to another astronaut and a mother of two young children, prepares to achieve her dream of space flight aboard the shuttle, her personal life begins to unravel as her marriage starts to fall apart, her son falls ill, and her relationship with Walt Womack, the leader of the training team, becomes dangerously intimate. 100,000 first printing.
From the author of the acclaimed and best-selling The Gates of the Alamo, a novel of extraordinary power about what it’s like, and what it means, to journey into space as one of today’s astronauts.
At the novel’s center: Lucy Kincheloe, an astronaut married to an astronaut, the loving mother of two young children, with a fierce ambition to excel in the space program. Her husband, Brian, a rigorous man whose dreams of glory have been blighted by two star-crossed missions. Walt Womack, the steady, unflappable leader of the training team that prepares Lucy for her first shuttle flight.
Lucy has devoted years of intense and focused effort to win her place on a mission, but as her lifelong dream of flying in space comes true, her familiar world appears to be falling apart around her. Her marriage is deteriorating. Her son’s asthma is growing more serious. Her relationship with Walt Womack is becoming dangerously intimate. And when at last she is in space, 240 miles above the earth, and an accident renders the world she left behind appallingly distant—perhaps unreachable—her spirit is tested in gripping and unexpected ways.
In The Gates of the Alamo, Stephen Harrigan’s narrative authority brought a vanished nineteenth-century Texas to vibrant life. In Challenger Park, he does the same with the world of space flight, bringing us up close to the lives—the risks, the friendships, the rituals, the training—of the astronauts and the people who work with them. Harrigan has written an exciting—indeed a thrilling—novel about the contrary pulls of home and adventure, reality and dreams, and the unimaginable experience, the joys and terrors and revelations, of space flight itself.
About the Author
Stephen Harrigan is the author of three previous novels, Aransas, Jacob’s Well, and The Gates of the Alamo. His nonfiction books include Water and Light: A Diver’s Journey to a Coral Reef and the essay collections A Natural State and Comanche Midnight. He is a longtime writer for Texas Monthly, and his articles have appeared in many other magazines. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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